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Interview - Stockholm 2008
Stockholm, Sweden 2008
by Michelle White ©Timba.com
Janne "Yanesito" Bogdan with his new toy in Stockholm
Timba.com: You founded the company Soneros All Stars in 2001. What do you consider to be the beginning for Soneros All Stars, 2002 when you recorded the CD Marianao with Cristina Azcuy?
Yanesito: No, it feels like it was when I began working with Arnaldo and those guys.
Timba.com: So it was with ¡Dime Nagüe!.
Yanesito: Yeah, so really you can say there are only two CDs that are Soneros All Stars. Because the first CD is just called "Cristina Azcuy".
Timba.com: OK. So Soneros All Stars really began with the all star band that was the ¡Dime Nagüe! album.
Timba.com: Who is Soneros All Stars? Is it really just you? I saw at your site that you have Karelia Cadavid listed as manager. If you click on Manager you get her e-mail. Do you consider her to be a part of Soneros All Stars or are you like David Calzado "Yo soy la cabeza" and the musicians can be changed.
Yanesito: Yeah, you could say that. Karelia has been a great help and a good friend and really helped out with everything. But it's me (laughs)
Timba.com: You're the All Star. (laughing)
Yanesito: Exactly. No but seriously I guess it's like Juan De Marcos, except that the idea is that I'll start to write more and more myself. I write quite a lot, but not in the salsa genre. I've written big band arrangements that have been more pop, but the plan is that now I'll start writing salsa myself.
Timba.com: Well considering how much people liked La tierra donde nací from ¡Dime Nagüe! maybe that's an indication that you should write a few more songs.
I wanted to ask because with your All Stars onda you choose one person to arrange all the songs so that you get a consistent feel throughout the album. Was it the same with Marianao?
Yanesito: No, that record was very much like a jam session. We played with it. When we started to record it I hardly knew what songs we were going to do. We recorded it at Cristina's house. I had a big digital portable studio that we recorded with, so it was very relaxed. That was what was so nice about that album. I think you can hear that it is very "soft".
It was a little like this: "So what are we going to do today then?"
"Oh yeah, that's a good one, we'll do that".
So no arrangements were written ahead of time and I didn't know what we were going to do.
Timba.com: The musicians on the CD, were they people that Cristina had worked with in Cuba?
Yanesito: No, they were people that I picked out, people that I'd met, the way you do when you're there and you go downtown. At that time I was more of a tourist. It was at the beginning of my Cuba visit so they were people that I'd met at bars and such. It wasn't at all the level that it is now, rather it was something completely different. That's how it started and then I got to know a musician who knew this guy and he knew that guy. That's what happened and it kept moving up.
So it was a very jam type of album, which was fun too.
Timba.com: And then came the dinner conversation with Sinsonte when Revé was here that eventually led to ¡Dime Nagüe!. We're you already thinking about doing another CD or did you want to wait to see how things went first? Because to me it seems like you began with the really basic Cuban music on Marianao, then you did something that is in between somewhere with modern changüí and then you end up doing something that is very modern. Granted there is still some son and changüí, but somehow it seems almost like the CDs follow your development as an artist. But maybe it wasn't like that, maybe you liked Pupy from the beginning?
Yanesito: I think that it probably was a quiet, slow development of my personal interest in Cuban music, you could say. And I've gotten so much help on the albums...on the last album from Bombón and Pupy, and I really become part of their gang and have been inspired by them.
Timba.com: How do you work when you do a project? You select an overall idea for the CD like "this time I want to do changüí" and then you select the musicians you want to work with? And you are the one who selects the songs and arranger?
Yanesito: I choose a base, in the latest case it was Pupy from the start. I also select al the songs.
Timba.com: When you choose the songs, what is it you're looking for?
Yanesito: First of all I always look for strong songs. I don't like records with one hit and the rest is just filler. And on the last album I found 10 songs I liked and wanted to record. Sure I could probably found a couple more songs just to stick in and use up more time. But it has to mean something too if you're going to do an album. It becomes such a personal thing. This last album took me a couple of years before it even got going, so then it's even more important to feel like "these songs are really important". You make something with them and then you can let go of those songs and move on and start looking for new songs, or hopefully begin writing new songs like I want to do. I just have to find time to do it.
Timba.com: Do you think about the order of the songs on the CD to try to create a mood?
Yanesito: The order of the songs is really important. It's something I think about a lot. Even the pause between songs is important. When the first song ends and how long should the pause be before the second one? You get a feel for this when you're mixing, "that song follows a little to closely, let's make the pause a little longer". It's difficult because people have different opinions of it, you can even feel differently about it if you're listening at home on the sofa or if the CD is playing at a club after dinner and a couple of beers, maybe you'll be a little more excited and think "Damn it's taking a long time for the next song to start", even though it's just a second.
When we did the ¡Dime Nagüe! CD I chose, actually I almost forced myself, to write the song La tierra donde nací. I felt like I had to have a song of my own on the CD. It was kind of fun because I've almost never worked that way where I forced out a song. I usually do something after I get an idea. But this time I really sat down and said "I'm gonna do this".
Timba.com: What inspired you on that song?
Yanesito: I was very inspired by changüí and Guantanamo and listened very much to traditional changüí, tres and played a little tres. It was an inspiration but I forced it out. It didn't come just like that.
Timba.com: How do you start? With the music or with the lyrics?
Yanesito: I start with an idea for a chord or melody and the lyrics come after that.
Timba.com: On La Timba Soy Yo you also have a song you've written with Caroline Schröder, De esa manera.
Yanesito: That's an old song that we did with Stockholm Soneros. Caroline wrote the base of the song and then we went over it together. There was a period when we worked out everything we did together. If she had a song we would help out to put the finishing touches on it or if I had a song.
But now Bombón has redone it quite a bit. The base is the same but the arrangement is completely new.
Timba.com: There are several songs written by the same person this time, Alberto Hechabarría. Who is he?
Yanesito: He's called Ruby and I happened to meet him, we out doing promotion on Cuban radio and I met him by chance. He looked like a real weirdo who was walking along with a guitar. And I had my tres with me so he started talking to us. And I thought "who is this guy?". You know there are so many people who come along all the time just because you have the tres. So we stared to jam a little there on the street and I was really not in the mood for another guy who wanted to sit and jam. But somehow it turned into a song while we were jamming. Gabriela [Gutarra] was there too and she said that he seemed to have some cool lyrics. I didn't even think about it. And then Gabriela decided "I'm going to meet with him and record his songs". I was a little negative because I didn't get a good vibe from him at first. Then it turned out that he had a bunch of really good songs.
And then when we came home to Stockholm we sat and listened to the other songs. They were great with really good ideas. I have even more of his songs on video that I could arrange and do really good work with.
Timba.com: And Cristina has also written 2 of the songs on the CD.
Yanesito: Conciencia and Besos de miel.
Timba.com: Were they written previously or did she write them for this CD?
Yanesito: They were not written for this CD but they were never recorded previously. We recorded the song Conciencia for the Marianao CD in 2002 but it didn't turn out right so it was put on ice.
Timba.com: And then came Pepito and you decided that they should sing it together?
Yanesito: Um, that's not exactly what happened. At first she sang the whole song. And then it occurred to me that I wanted Pepito to sing it too. And then we simply mixed their voices, so they never sang together. We just noticed afterwards, "Damn this sounds like they're singing a duet," if we muted one. So they never sang together in the studio, instead Cristina sang the whole song and Pepito sang the whole song, then afterwards I thought both sounded good so I couldn't decide what to do. And then I heard it and it worked really well as a duet. We just muted one and then the other.
Timba.com: On your first project you worked with Revé and on this project you chose to work with Pupy. Is there a special reason that you wanted to work with him? It's a very different sound.
Yanesito: Oh yeah, you can say that. I really love his records and the way they play, their use of songo. It swings, it has a very typical "Pupy swing". I wanted Pupy to do all the arrangements. Then it turned out I got an e-mail from Pupy saying "I'm going to hire someone to do all of the arrangements but I'll set my stamp on it". I was a little unsure, like "Who's that?". And it was Roelvis, Bombón.
Then I began to understand how it works. When you're there you see that Roelvis is always with Pupy, always, at rehearsal and everything. Bombón also has a lot to say about how the songs will be, since he actually writes all the arrangements. I think you can hear it on La Timba Soy Yo, and if you listen to Pupy's last CD there are a lot of similarities...you can hear that Bombón has a lot of influence also. Of course Pupy sets the final stamp on it, so to speak, but Bombón is also there and has a lot of opinions. The two of them seem to be very much a unit. Bombón is Pupy's right hand somehow.
At the time I didn't know it worked like that. Now I understand it, and I've even understood that it was the same with Revé too. Before it was Arnaldo and now it's Aisar. So that's apparently how it works.
Timba.com: How much direction did you give as to what you wanted in the arrangements? Did you say "Here are the lyrics, do something" or "I want a particular style". I ask because I notice that there are no gear changes on the CD, which are normally a part of a timba arrangement. Did you tell them not to go too far, or...?
Yanesito: That was something we talked about, and both Bombón and Pupy felt that we shouldn't have a bunch of bomba sections, etc., that everyone has. Everyone...it's almost starting to be overused and it's like you can get turned off by it. I love it, and think it's really cool. But we talked about it and we decided that it should be swing, it should be suggestive and just roll on, and not so many sophisticated effects, rather it should a lot of songo and it should swing. Basic, very basic. I've gotten quiet a lot of inspiration from Pupy.
They would often say "play more simply". When I was recording the tres there were some songs where Pupy's opinion was that I was playing too sophisticated: "play more simply, just play really basic things". I always thought "Well you always have to show what you're capable of," but when I did it immediately felt right, "Damn, this is just right, this is how it should be!". Then everything falls into place, since so much is happening with the percussion doing a bunch of things.
Pupy has the idea that it just has to swing. That's what's important. If it doesn't swing then it isn't music. So just begin with a groove. I like that about Pupy and also Bombón, that it's such a down-to-earth swing, it's the whole base. It's about maintaining basic patterns, a lot of Africa somehow, that are repeated and repeated. If you listen to the tres on most of the songs you'll see that they are very suggestive lines that repeat all the time.
Timba.com: What do you think when people say that Pupy's music is like a "wall of sound" where you can't differentiate the individual instruments?
Yanesito: I don't agree. I think you can really differentiate the instruments. Mattias Murhagen has done a great mix of the album. He's done an incredibly good job so you can really hear each instrument well. We're friends who both come from Sandviken but he is living in New York now. He was a jazz saxophonist from the beginning. He's a very good musician who has stumbled into mixing by chance and now everybody wants him
Timba.com: The CD has quite a combination of genres, you have songo, changüí, son, a ballad, a danzón.
Yanesito: I actually quite satisfied with the choice of songs. I think all the songs have strong subjects and I feel like having four different singers gave it a good balance. It feels fresh all the time that they relieve one another and that there are songs with somewhat different styles. If you compare with my previous album, ¡Dime Nagüe!, looking back I think it wouldn't have been a bad idea to throw in a bolero as a break. I'm more pleased with the choice of songs on this album. It feels fresh all the time that there are different tempos, different styles and also different singers.
Yanesito: At first I had some other ideas with various musicians. It was such an unbelievably difficult process to get things to work. It takes months, and the months just pass, and you e-mail and you call. That is to say that people don't understand how much work it is to bring something like this together. It's unbelievable.
I had plans at first to work with Manolito and Roicel, but Pupy made it clear that he wanted to work with his musicians. It seems a little bit like they compete with each other. You noticed at first when Sinsonte was there that things were a bit stiff, but then they became really good friends, but at first it felt a little stiff. It seems like Mandy and Sinsonte are really good friends, I think you can almost see it in the picture on the CD cover. And they had a lot of fun in the studio too. They joked a lot and sang.
Timba.com: You had a lot of problems in general to get things together and it took a lot longer than you had planned. Was it more than just the logistics of getting everyone together and finding a time that worked for everyone?
Yanesito: That was a lot of it you could say. Then there was a little song material that I felt I wasn't completely happy with. I felt like certain songs were missing. I had some emergency solutions but then by chance Gabriela went to Havana and met Cristina and she had these two songs that she'd written that she presented and they solved the problem.
So in part it was the song material that didn't feel 100% and getting everything together. I also felt like Pupy didn't really know who I was, because there are so many people coming all the time from Italy and France who are going to do projects but it never happens. And I think he didn't trust me really. At first I had an assistant in Cuba who was going to help me and he did basically nothing. He said "it's green, you can go", but it didn't feel right. I had no response from Pupy. But when Gabriela was in Havana she went to visit Pupy and talked to him and told him who I was. It turns out that this guy hadn't told Pupy anything about me.
Then they got an advance and felt like it was really happening, and then you could see that the ball was rolling. Plus I gave all the material to Bombón and he started to work with the songs. But it was still a process. It takes time to arrange a song, and also to get a band together that I feel satisfied with.
W had some trouble finding a bassist at first. But in the end it was Pupy who suggested Candelita. He was incredibly good. I didn't know who it was, but it felt like he was absolutely the best choice for bass. He plays incredibly well.
Timba.com: Who has he played with?
Yanesito: He has his own band apparently but he also subs for a lot of groups. As I understand he he subs for both Pupy and Los Van Van.
Timba.com: You've talked about putting together a band for a tour. How would that work with this constellation of people? You'd probably have to have substitutes for some of the musicians who weren't free.
Yanesito: Exactly. That's the problem. If you're going to work with Mandy and Pepito, then Pupy has a problem with his band. So we'll see. Maybe Pupy wouldn't find it to be too big a problem if they left for one month if Pupy doesn't have any special tour. I don't know but I think it would be really fun to do a crazy mix of people. But I get the feeling that they always try to work with their own buddies. For example if I say "I want that guy on piano," they say "Unfortunately he's not available, but I have a friend..." and it turns out they never even asked the first guy.
Timba.com: So now you have started playing bass too.
Yanesito: Yeah, now it feels like it's going to become my main instrument, probably because it still so new and fun. Treseros don't get a lot of jobs but bassist are always in demand in all bands.
Timba.com: Ah that's the advice that Formell's dad gave him. He said "If you play bass you never be unemployed".
Yanesito: (Laughing) Yeah, I think so to because you notice here in Stockholm, people talk about all the bands in town and they always have problems with finding a bassist.
Timba.com: You only play Baby or do you play electric bass too?
Yanesito: I have an electric bass too, but I'm going to focus on the Baby which I think is absolutely the most fun. I've played electric guitar since I was 12 years old, but electric bass doesn't seem so fun to me. I've almost had my fill of guitar-like...that's why I think it's very exciting with the big bass. And the Baby has a special sound. And it's so good looking with 5 strings because it has such a fat neck.
Timba.com: Now that you've finished this project are you thinking of doing another or does it feel like it's too much work?
Yanesito: Above all it's expensive, terribly expensive and that's where the big problem is. You never get your money back. Now I feel like I want to get out and play. Now that I have a couple of CDs behind me, I can go out and play. So a tour is what feels most likely now. I've already had some inquiries but Id rather not organize everything myself. I organized a tour for Cristina Azcuy and I said "Never again".